We’ve heard and read quite a bit about Latte Art Throwdown in recent weeks, and it’s fair to say our interest has been piqued. The brainchild of Tamara Muro and her husband, noted cinematographer J. Michael Muro, Latte Art Throwdown is a fascinating fusing of Hollywood and specialty coffee – a pairing we think could mean big things for the industry. Sprudge.com recently sat down with Tamara to get the inside story on her website, family history, and exciting plans for the future.
Sprudge: To start, can we ask a bit about your background?
Tamara Muro: My family has been making films since 1924. My great grandfather was the right hand man for President Wilson and after the end of Wilson’s term he moved to Hollywood. His name is William “Pop” Guthrie, and he helped run Warner Brothers for 40 years. He put 85 students thru USC (that’s why he was named “Pop”). He believed in investing in people, and he died at his desk at Warner. I just visited his office for the first time a year ago. My grandfather, Lester, started the Directors Guild of America and made more than 3oo episodes of The Lone Ranger, among other programs. My father is Lynn Guthrie, film producer, etc. I grew up on television and film sets such as The Graduate and The Beverly Hillbillies, to name just a few.
I started working in the industry in hair and make-up. I met my husband, J. Michael Muro, on the set of Dances With Wolves. I left hair and make-up and started working for my husband in a production company that we started. That was around 1992. Since around 2002 I’ve been working with him to create still shots to aid in color timing DI a motion picture finishing process which classically involves digitizing a motion picture and manipulating the color and other image characteristics). I am still a member of Local 706 (hair and make-up.) I have 8 brothers and sisters, and all but 3 of us are in the film industry.
My husband, J. Michael Muro, and I have been married for 20 years. J. Michael has worked on dozens of films, with directors such as James Cameron, Michael Mann, Martin Scorcese, Brett Ratner and Oliver Stone (Editors note: for a truly impressive resume, please check out the IMDB entry for J. Michael Muro). He’s particularly well known in the industry for his work with the Steadicam.
Wow! So where are you based, or are you fully mobile now? Your site mentions a vintage airstream trailer, any more info you can share on that?
We live in Los Angeles. We also own a home in New Orleans, and we’re proud Saints fans who want to aid in the rebuilding of that city. Our Airstream is a work in progress; it has had some problems, but once finished it will be a screening room for J. Michael when he is directing and shooting. I will work out of there on set doing DI stuff for color timing etc, and of course it will have a espresso machine! Either a Slayer or a La Marzocco GB5. Can’t wait until it’s done!
So tell us, what’s your ultimate goal with LatteArtThrowdown.com? Are you planning on starting an exclusive high-end mobile cafe to provide coffee on film shoots?
Well, that is a BIG question. We’re talking about a gourmet coffee bar truck (like the food trucks you see in Los Angeles and New York City), and there is also talk about opening a coffee bars in L.A. and New Orleans. As far as coffee on film sets… I and many guest baristas have made coffee for crews over the years, as a gift to them for working so hard on set. We do not charge them any money, nor do we accept tips. This was first done by carrying around a 120 pound espresso machine and heavy grinder from location to location, but that got old fast! In Boston we bought a Range Rover and built the espresso machines out of the back of the car. We’re now working with a La Marzocco GS3, a Nuova Simonelli Appia and a Mazzer Major grinder.
This has been such an amazing thing for our cast and crew. We are educating them as we learn, including offering blind coffee cuppings on the set. We’ve also had noted coffee experts such as George and Jenny Howell visit our sets; George brought 8 people on our set with a huge set up of amazing coffees and machines. I recently put together a sample roasting video I made with Jenny, and a cupping video featuring George. That video is finished but it’s not on the site yet. George Howell is a living legend of coffee, and I’m currently trying to put together a presentation of George’s 4 hour tasting class in Los Angeles. If you haven’t been to one of his tasting classes, check it out, we can’t recommend his classes highly enough!
Our directors and actors have their favorite beans, for sure. Mark Mylod (director of Entourage and UK hit Shameless) is a huge George Howell Company fan, and his head assistant Quinn is big on Barismo. We’ve had a great response from actors over the Ritual coffees we’ve served on set. I actually got to roast some of my own coffee with Barismo! We hand sorted it, roasted, and even got to name it – we’re calling it “Addict”. All of our early roasts were given away to friends and industry folks, with the hope of growing interest in the film community for the growing process at origin. We would love to be a part of direct trade buying in the future.
Why did you choose “Latte Art Throwdown” as the name of your site? Were you inspired by the actual “throw down” latte art competitions you’ve attended?
I have been obsessed with espresso coffee for 30 years, ever since my dad first bought a beautiful espresso machine in Italy. I watched him serve coffee to his actors, directors, and crew members, and it totally inspired me. I first saw latte art at Caffe Artigiano in Vancouver around 10 years ago, and ever since then I have searched for coffee that looks and tastes as amazing. A few months back, some of our crew members suggested that I put my search for amazing coffee on a website, and so LatteArtThrowdown.com was born. Why the name? Well, the plan was to sponsor throw downs with the different coffee houses that we would go to. We have done some, happily giving out cash, prizes, and t-shirts to the best baristas. We recently sponsored an East Coast throw down had a throw down that featured baristas such as Danielle Glasky, Nikolas Krankl, and Jordan Barber. Nik’s place Taste won first place. We also recently held a throw down in Chicago, footage of which will be online soon. Our site is always evolving, and we now have featured roasters and some educational videos up online. I’m also currently in training, because I want to know exactly how hard it is to do latte art myself! Let me tell you… it’s hard!
I admire the people who elevate this craft to a true artform. I’ve learned from Intelligentsia lab in NYC, baristas in Atlanta, and Anne Nylander from Tamp Tamp. Who knew that Jersey cows have the best milk for latte art? I’m so fortunate to know the baristas, roasters, cafe owners and coffee educators I’ve met, because they really are some of the finest people I have ever had the pleasure of knowing. I feel Iike I am lucky to have learned from the best. I never get tired of hearing, “I didn’t know coffee could taste this good.” or “This is the best coffee I have ever had.”
What’s next for you?
I hope to compete this year. I wish I could be trained by Mike Phillips, but his recent World Barista Championship win and work for Intelligentsia Coffee & Tea keeps him very busy. I feel competing would make me a better barista and would help me appreciate on a deeper level coffee and all that goes into preparing it.
What next? Who knows. We’ve talked about doing a professional documentary, talked about partnering with the Food Network, and talked about making a feature-length film on specialty coffee. But it’s all talk at this point. The most important thing is educating people, myself included, and spreading the message that good coffee starts with good equipment, the right training and awesome roasted coffee.
What’s your favorite West Coast coffee experience thus far? Any cafes you’re dying to try? Will you be making your way further north on the West Coast any time soon?
Sight Glass, Verve, Intelligentsia, Ritual, and French Press (a new cafe Santa Barbara) are definite favorites. We had a wonderful experience at Verve Roasters in particular, and we’re planning to go back to there and do another video in September. As far as Portland, Seattle and Vancouver, yes! We’ll be there soon, and I can’t wait. I’m going to meet Eric from Slayer Espresso, and we’re planning some more throw downs and exciting new fun charity and celebrity events. Throw downs with celebrity judges!
Thanks so much for your time, Tamara!
If your cafe is interested in being featured on LatteArtThrowdown.com, you can e-mail Tamara.
BTW, “Clueless” AND “Casino”?!? OMG!!!!